Hypocrisy of a governor: raises for staff, no min. wage in Birmingham

Update 2 – 3/31, 3:39 p.m. EST: Alabama state House Rep. Ed Henry (R-Hartselle) plans on bringing articles of impeachment against Gov. Bentley, according to House Democratic Leader Craig Ford.

AL.com is reporting that Henry could bring the articles to the Alabama House as early as April 4, which “over half” of the representatives there support.

Rep. Henry said Bentley has “lost the trust of the people of Alabama,” after allegedly having an affair with a staff aide, one Rebekah Caldwell Mason. 

Mason resigned from her post in the governor’s office on Monday.

 

Update – 3/24, 10:48 a.m. EST: Gov. Bentley has added a personal aspect to his embarrassingly dismal public record as a 2014 sexual harassment scandal has now become a national story.

Audio recordings have been released which show that the Alabama governor had been carrying on a sexual relationship with one of his current aides — Rebekah Caldwell Mason — who had formerly served as his communications director. 

Former head of the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, Spencer Collier, brought the affair to the public’s attention after being fired by Bentley for allegedly failing to cover-up for the governor in a public corruption case.

“My crime is this,” Collier said at a Wednesday press conference. “I refused to lie to the attorney general’s office and I signed an affidavit. That was part of my job.”

Collier said he first learned of the affair in August 2014, and said he regrets not telling Bentley’s wife of 50 years about the arrangement sooner.

Mrs. Bentley filed for divorce from the governor in 2015 for undisclosed reasons.

 

Just two days after the city of Birmingham, AL, officially set a $10.10 minimum wage on Feb. 23, Republicans in the state legislature at Montgomery jammed through a law preventing counties and municipalities from raising the floor for hourly compensation across the Yellowhammer State.

The counter-legislation was rushed to the governor’s desk for approval before the new minimum wage in Birmingham went into effect on March 1.  The bill also struck down the legal authority of local governments to mandate businesses allow for employee sick-leave.

With Republicans enjoying super-majorities in both the state’s House and Senate, there was little resistance to the prevailing argument that increased labor costs would drive up unemployment in Alabama.

Despite a 2014 analysis of hundreds of studies on the effect of minimum wage showing that increases have “very modest or no effects on employment, hours and other labor outcomes,” Gov. Robert Bentley promptly signed the obstructionist legislation before Birmingham’s workers would see a day’s increase in pay.

Alabama has no state minimum wage, so worker’s can receive the federal minimum of $7.25 per hour.

While the pros and cons of a rising minimum wage can be debated, the hypocrisy of blocking the poorest workers in Alabama from receiving a pay raise, while at the same time increasing the salaries of your own staff and cabinet members by up to 80 percent overnight, can not be.

That’s precisely what Gov. Bentley did at the end of 2015, taking advantage of a law (Senate Bill 186) passed the same year which repealed caps on salaries for executive branch personnel.  Four members of the governor’s cabinet received an automatic raise from $91,000 to over $164,000 per year.

A fifth member of the governor’s cabinet — the Medicaid Commissioner — was awarded a 45 percent increase in yearly salary to $205,000.

“The Bentley administration says the state is broke,” said Jackie Ziegler, a Republican state board of education candidate. “They have denied pay increases for teachers, state employees and retirees. They closed five state parks and cut back others. They closed 31 drivers license offices. They gutted the state auditor’s budget. They took 100 state troopers off the road.”

While cutting state services and raiding Alabama’s education fund to the tune of $66 million, the state’s fiscal year 2016 budget called for $66 million in new taxes on cigarette and prescription drug sales and beds for nursing homes.

The state legislature has started to push back against Bentley’s regressive agenda however. On March 15 the Alabama House passed its 2017 budget that redirects money from the Office of the Governor to the State Medicaid Agency.

Republican State Rep. Allen Farley described the legislation as “terrible”, but wrote, “I held my nose and voted for it because we . . . added an amendment that would take the total of all Bentley’s staff and Cabinet Member raises from the Governor’s Budget and move that amount to Medicaid. We are sure the Governor will veto it, but we had to send a message.”

Adding to Gov. Bentley’s backward vision for Alabama is his goal to secure $850 million in state loans to fund the construction of four new prisons using one non-bid contractor.

Debt service on the prison loan(s) — interest plus the principal — is estimated to cost taxpayers in Alabama $50 million per year for the next 30 years.

 

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